Marshall Islands Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Marshall Islands is a country located in Micronesia. With the capital city of Majuro, Marshall Islands has a population of 59,201 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. The Marshall Islands were managed from the end of World War II until 1986 (formally 1990) by the United States under UN supervision. Between 1946 and 1958, the Americans conducted a variety of nuclear weapons tests in the air over the islands and radioactive fallout spread over large areas. Some atolls are uninhabitable even today. The Marshall Islands have received damages from the United States as the extent of the damage was discovered. Even after independence in 1986, the Marshall Islands’ ties to the United States remained strong – albeit complicated.

After fierce battles during World War II, the United States conquered the Marshall Islands from Japan in 1944. Nearly all Japanese who moved to the islands during the Japanese occupation of 1914-1944 were forced to flee. Three years later, the Americans were given the UN’s mandate to administer the islands as an American Protectorate (Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) under UN supervision. The US was thus granted the right to establish military bases in the area. The territory was ruled by the US Navy in 1947-1951, but was then handed over to a civilian administration.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Marshall Islands. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

During the years 1946–1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the air over the Marshall Islands. The force of the test blasts together amounted to more than 7,000 hiroshima bombs. Because they occurred in the atmosphere, and not underground, radioactive fallout spread in large quantities over the islands. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Marshall Islands.

The tests were carried out at the Bikini and Enewetak atolls, but the Rongelap atoll was also directly affected by the fallout. The population of these atolls was evacuated. The Enewetak residents could return to parts of their atoll in 1980 after decontamination. However, the most soiled parts should be blocked for another 300 years. The bikinis were able to return in 1970 but were evacuated again in 1978 when measurements showed it could be dangerous to eat crops grown on the islands. The Rongelap residents were only evacuated three days after being exposed to radioactivity from one of the largest test blasts conducted. They were allowed to return in 1957 but were evacuated again in 1985.


Over time, a dispute arose with the United States about the Marshall Islands’ claims for damages to those affected by the test blasts. Some compensation is guaranteed in the agreement on free association (see below), but the Marshall Islands have made additional compensation as the extent of the injuries became known (see also Foreign Policy and Defense).

Independence from the United States began to be debated in the 1960s, but concrete negotiations were not conducted until the following decade. In a referendum in 1978, the people of the Marshall Islands rejected the idea of ​​being part of the future Micronesian Federation, and the following year adopted its own constitution that provided internal autonomy.

Four years later, a Compact of Free Association agreement was signed with the United States. The agreement came into force in 1986 and states that the Marshall Islands are an independent state but that the United States is responsible for the islands’ defense and national security. The United States is committed to providing significant financial assistance. The agreement can be terminated by the Marshall Islands at any time, provided it is approved in a referendum. In 1990, the United Nations formally ended the US administration and the Marshall Islands became a UN member the following year.

In 1979, the country’s first president was elected Iroijlaplap (“Supreme Chief”) Amata Kabua. He was the foremost traditional leader who thus also gained the formal political power. His position was strong and he was re-elected four times before he died in 1996 and was succeeded by his cousin Imata Kabua.

Increased political turbulence

During Imata Kabua, the political situation became more dynamic and conflict-filled. In an attempt to attract tourists to the islands, gambling was allowed in 1996. However, the games mainly attracted the indigenous population and church leaders tried to ban the gambling.

In 1998 Parliament decided on a ban, but only after several members, including President Kabua, were declared in disarray because of their business interests in the gaming industry. Shortly thereafter, three government members were deposed who supported the gaming ban. One of them then demanded that Parliament vote in confidence on the president, the first in the country’s history. When this was done, the president with supporters blocked parliamentary work for a time through a boycott. When the work resumed, the president won the vote with an overweight vote.

In the 1999 election, voters showed their dissatisfaction with the seated politicians. The dismissed members of the government had shortly before formed the political group United Democratic Party (UDP), which won 18 of the 33 seats in parliament. The UDP thus gained its own majority in parliament and formed government. For the first time, a person without roots was elected in the country’s traditional aristocracy, the former Speaker Kessai Note.

When the parliamentary elections were held in November 2003, the battle was mainly between the UDP and the newly formed opposition group Our Islands Party (OIP). The UDP majority increased to 20 seats. In January 2004, President Note was re-elected by Parliament for another term.

The agreement with the US is renegotiated

In the years following the turn of the millennium, negotiations were held on the free association agreement between the United States and the Marshall Islands. A new agreement became clear in the spring of 2003. It guarantees continued financial support from the United States of America for about $ 30 million annually until 2024, against which the Americans may retain the military base of the Kwajalein Atoll until 2066. In addition, the United States pledged to contribute 7 to 2024. million dollars annually to a fund for future use.

During his second term in office, Note and his government sought to enforce a constitutional amendment so that the president would continue to be elected directly by the people. The process was halted by the opposition, which wanted to postpone the issue until after the fall of 2007. The government then promised a referendum on the matter, but no such one ever came to fruition.

The November 2007 parliamentary elections ended in a deadlock between President Notes UDP and the opposition Alliance United Nations Party / Our Islands Party (OIP). In some constituencies the votes had to be recalculated. When the recalculation was complete, the United People’s Party / Our Island Party had lost a mandate. The UDP became the largest in parliament but lacked its own majority. Thus, both parties became dependent on Parliament’s four independent members to form a government.

The United People’s Party / Our Islands Party won the tug of war. In early 2008, former President Litokwa Tomeing was elected from the alliance as new president with 18 votes to 15.

Minister is convicted of fraud

In March 2009, Foreign Minister Tony de Brum was dismissed after openly criticizing the president. De Brum was then behind attempts to topple the government in a vote of confidence. This failed but led to a government transformation.

In October of that year, a new vote of confidence was lost which President Tomeing lost by a two-vote margin (17-15). On October 26, Parliament appointed President Jurelang Zedkaia as the new president with the 17-15 votes. His only counterpart was Kessai Note who had led the opposition to Tomeing. With the exception of the Minister of Justice, all members of the Tomeing government were allowed to remain in Zedkaia’s new ministry.

In 2010, charges of corruption were directed against the government. In June 2011, twelve people were indicted for embezzling US aid intended for the Department of Education, the Health and Finance. One month later, Minister of Transport Kenneth Kedi was sentenced to 30 days’ conditional imprisonment and fines for misappropriation of public funds. However, he was allowed to remain in his post after serving a sentence. In 2012, several officials were sentenced at the ministries for participation in the scandal.

As a result of the embezzlement, the penalty scale for bribery and other corruption crimes was sharpened in September 2011, and in November the Marshall Islands signed the UN Convention against Corruption.

Loeaks time as president

Ahead of the November 2011 parliamentary elections, senators and ministers formed the group Your Government, in support of President Zedkaia. However, the electorate was UDP and OIP, which together with some independent candidates received 20 of the 33 seats.

In January 2012, the new parliament elected Christopher Loeak from OIP as president. He belonged to the country’s traditional aristocracy and had previously been prime minister. Loeak formed a government consisting of ten ministers from mainly OIP and UDP. The only woman in the government was Hilda Heine, who was given the responsibility of the Ministry of Education.

In November 2013, the Loeak government survived a vote of confidence in Parliament, in which the opposition reacted to the government’s handling of a minor diplomatic dispute with Taiwan. A controversy over the appointment of the Marshall Islands representative to the UN agency Unesco in March 2014 led to a new vote of confidence, which the government also passed, and a smaller government transformation.

First female president

The November 2015 parliamentary elections were a setback for the incumbent government. Half of the ministers lost their seats in Parliament. Winners instead became the opposition group Your Government, which won 23 of the 33 seats.

Despite your government’s clear electoral victory, supporters of the old Loeak government still managed to get their nominee, Casten Nemra, elected by parliament for president in January 2016. However, later that month, Nemra fell into a vote of confidence after several members switched sides and now sympathized with Your government. On the following day, Parliament elected independent member Hilda Heine as new head of state and government. She was elected with the support of Your Government and a number of independent members.

Hilda Heine became the Marshall Islands’ first female president. In the country, she was known as a champion for women’s rights as well as a voice in the low-lying island republic’s fight against climate change.

A new controversial law was passed by Parliament in September 2016, which means that marshales living abroad (close to one-third of the population) are no longer allowed to vote, but must personally appear in the country to put their ballot in the ballot boxes.

In February 2017, a committee of 45 members was set up, whose task is to review a series of draft amendments that have long been debated in Parliament. These include introducing direct presidential elections and reserving six seats in parliament for women. In order for any amendments to be adopted, they must first be approved in a referendum.

Marshall Islands Modern History